Virtually_8/28_kh, New funding provides easier access to virtual classes

By Gus Bode

High school students don’t even have to leave their bedroom to attend class.

That is, if they have a computer with Internet access.

A new semester has begun at IVHS.

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The Illinois Virtual High School is an Internet based system of courses available to students who are interested in taking courses that might not be offered in their high school.

The classes can be taken day or night, at home or in a classroom.

“I hear from the students that they appreciate the flexibility of IVHS,” said Matthew Wicks, director of Virtual Learning.

“They enjoy interacting with students from other parts of the state and taking classes that they couldn’t take otherwise.”

There are 76 full-semester courses and 12 Advanced Placement review and ACT courses offered during the fall semester. They included courses in foreign languages, high-level mathematics and sciences, among others.

IVHS is not a replacement to a traditional high school setting, Wicks said. Instead, it is an alternative way to work with high schools. In fact, no credit is actually assigned from IVHS or its teachers.

IVHS teachers make recommendations to schools about the type of work their students did and from there, the school decides what grade letter is appropriate for that work.

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With IVHS, some students get more than they bargained for.

“This isn’t for everyone,” said Wick. “We do have some problems, but they are basically about the type of student who takes the class.”

To help these students, a “live mentor” is provided at the student’s school. Also, IVHS teachers make monthly phone calls to not only the student, but also the parents and the school.

“We view everything as a team effort – a partnership between us, the student and the school,” Wick said.

That team effort seems to be paying off.

IVHS has about a 75 percent completion rate, while the national rate for completion of virtual courses by high school students is only about 50 percent.

IVHS also places emphasis on offering curriculum that ensures students can meet the Illinois Learning Standards.

This also includes courses that are not available within a certain school district.

“In these situations, the Virtual High School will be a valuable mechanism for offering quality instruction to those who are interested, regardless of the geographic location or the wealth of the district,” Gov. George Ryan said in a recent statement.

In the past, IVHS was open to high school students in public and private schools as well as home-schooled students who could come up with the cash to pay for it.

Now, with recent tuition cuts, the virtual courses are more available to all students. In the past, these courses were costly, leaving some students without the resources to enroll.

In addition, some school districts have decided to foot the bill for IVHS as long as the student completes the required work.

The courses, which were originally $300 per semester, have been reduced to $195. In addition to lowered tuition rates, IVHA will offer over 800 scholarships to low-income districts and students as a result of new state and federal funding.

“With the tuition rate drops and wider knowledge of IVHS, we are certainly expecting significant growth,” Wicks said.

Reporter Kristina Herrndobler can be reached at [email protected]

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